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Marseilles (Marseille), France

Reference work entry

Introduction

The capital of the Bouches-de-Rhône region in the Midi, France’s second city covers two thirds of the department. The largest commercial seaport in France, and the second in Europe after Rotterdam, Marseilles is situated on the Gulf of Lions at the mouth of River Rhône, and is flanked by limestone hills.

History

Marseilles was founded as Massalia by Greek seafarers from Phocaia in Asia Minor around 600 BC and is one of France’s oldest cities. Its natural harbour was developed into an important trade centre and Massalia became powerful and prosperous, rivalling Carthage as a trade centre. The city supported the Romans in the Punic Wars but then switched to the defeated Pompey. Taken by Caesar in 49 BC, Marseilles was allowed to retain its independence but declined rapidly, decimated by disease and conflict and finally destroyed by the Moors in the ninth century.

Marseilles’ revival began in the tenth century, under the Dukes of Provence. Marseilles was one of the principal...

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